Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tulchan Plot

Tulchan Plot

The day was warm and breezy and the rolling wind wound around the ancient, dark stones of the manor house’s high walls, ruffling between ivy curtains and chasing out long hidden leaves of last autumn from their cobwebbed sepulchers. The sky was clear, with a sharp clarity that almost made it unbearable, were it not for the little wind’s company as it played with the edges of our garments.

The young boy that stood before her reproachful gaze looked oddly comical, wearing boots that were obviously much too big for him. But he would grow into them, as she would say. His straw hat was clutched in dirty fingers, generations of mud beneath the finger nails of his sun bronzed hands. He looked for all the world to be a true son of Adam, taken from his side and from the earth itself; an embodiment of the summer sun and the red clay of the earth and the steady and true things in life. And yet now, his bright eyes dropped to that same steady ground as he heard her harsh voice.

“Today, young man, you shall receive your inheritance. This parcel of land, here between the manor house and the main gateway is yours by birth and blood and right of heaven. You may do with it what you want. However, I expect nothing but the best from you. This land was cleared by your forefathers, who plowed that hard clay, pulled out the roots and rocks, worked the soil till it became warm and soft and receptive to all life. This is your inheritance. The reward for their heavy toil and labor comes down to your decisions.”

She paused, letting the wind catch a stray, solitary strand of her irongrey hair. She deftly plucked it from the wind and held it forth in between her finger and thumb.

“This land is fragile. Its balance is thin. As thin as a strand of an old woman’ hair. Look after your works. Take care what seed you allow to fall on it. Let it lie fallow for a time, so that it may be enriched once more, and prepare it for the day that you plant that seed. And then, take care. If you plant more than you can support you will regret it. Plant only one kind of seed. Heed my warning. I shall provide you with adequate supply soon.”

And so we left him there in his oversized boots and straw hat. As we walked away, back towards the gleaming white manor house with its large windows covered in shade, his eyes rose up from the ground and met mine. They burned with a passion. A strong desire. And something deeper I could not place.

For several years I watched the boy and his plot from a high window in the library of the manor house. He followed her every word. He let it lie fallow. He plowed it and weeded it and continually worked nutrients into it, to prepare it for the day he would sow the precious seeds she would give him. When it hardened in winter’s cold, he broke the ice and placed more straw on it to keep it warm and alive. When the summer storms threatened to wash his work away, he built walls and covers and dug deep wells for the waters. And when the times of drought came, he drew from the storm wells and kept the soil from drying out and becoming hard. He kept his plot well.

Then came the appointed day. I was not allowed to go with her to his plot and so could only observe the pantomime from the window. There he was, still too small for his boots, and clutching a much more worn straw hat in much larger and dirtier hands. And there she was, prim and proper as death itself, or more accurately a high judge in black robes with her white hair in curls on her head. She handed him a small, burlap pouch, which he took and gently carried to the center of the plot. Then she turned and walked back to the Manor, her sharp eyes meeting mine for a second, a chill filling the room as I could hear the echoes of her words already.

Soon afterwards, small rows of bright green appeared in the brown square that was his inheritance. He stood guard day and night over them, protecting them from frost, birds, beetles, and any other robber of nature that would try to take them from him. They were all he had and he would have protected them with his very life. And so, filled with sympathy for his plight, I descended the staircase one night when the moon was full and pale and white and beautiful and the air was warm and fragrant.

I walked along the white pebbled path, a small burlap sack beneath my arm. I walked to the gate of the wall he had built around it reaching up to my waist. He was there, cloaked in the shadows, smoking a corncob pipe as he watched me stand there. He hoped down and walked with his barefeet through the neat rows of small shadows.

“I-I brought you something for your garden. Since you don’t have any other seed.” And quickly placed the bag atop the wall and ran back to the manor house, unsure of what I feared so greatly. I felt his eyes upon me even as I ran. Then, reaching the great library window I looked back out toward his plot, and saw with dismay, that everything was as before. He sat in the corner, watching his rows, and the small burlap sack sat untouched, and seeming forgotten, on the wall.

The next few weeks and months he did not seem to mind the sack at all, as if he did not even see it. If I had only known how he struggled to keep his vow to her, that he would not plant anything else, that he would plant only that which he could tend to. I did not know then, but each morning, he forced himself to once more take joy in his rows of bright green leaves and refuse to even look at the haunting bag on the wall. He did not even dare to touch it, for fear of the temptation that would assail him. And so he left it, and I was left confused, and the rows of bright green grew taller.

It was sometime in the month of May when the blight struck. There was no way to protect the little green leaves from it. There was no way to cure the ones that got it. As if cruel fate threw a horrid die made of yellowed and cracked baby’s bones, to decide that some would live and some would die merely based off of chance and not merit. In a day and night I saw him loose almost all his crop. He cried that morning, on his hands and knees in the field surrounded by yellowed and black wilted leaves, burying his face in that same brown ground. And as my own eyes began to tear, he looked up, as if seeing me and my tears and my window and my world, and walked towards the wall. He took up the burlap bag I gave him, took a fist full of gleaming silvery-white oblong seeds and threw them with force across the dark earth. Then he fell to his knees and darkness came with the night.

For the next few days there seemed to be no hope. Then the first faint tendrils of turquoise-blue greenery broke through the ground in a spread out array like stars bursting into life in the cold reaches of the universe. He moved again. He stood up again. He surveyed his field and smiled again. And he looked to me, again as if seeing me, and smiled at me behind my glassy wall. For a few weeks all seemed right again. Then there was the night of the frost.

To this day, I’m not quite certain of what mechanics were involved or what scientific reactions occurred. Some have postulated that it was related to the ideas of hibernation and dormancy. Others have suggested a fungus mimicking blight was responsible and that the frost killed it. I have contented myself with naming it, frankly, a miracle. But the worst kind of miracle, one which comes after it is no longer looked for… and perhaps even desired. In short, the morning after the frost, all awoke to find the small rows of withered plants restored to their natural greenish hue. Not a single one had perished.

At first I assumed he would jump and shout for joy as his precious crop had been salvaged. But he didn’t. He looked about himself, standing in the plot surrounded by bright green rows and turquoise-green tendrils, and he seemed to be in shock. A dark cloud had come over the bright horizon of dawn and with it, his face fell into shadow once more. Then I realized his thoughts. He had disobeyed her. He had planted more than one kind of seed.

I watched him bow down on his hands and knees and reach for the nearest tendril of turquoise. Knowing him, he would go and weed out ever last one of those small plants, snuffing out their young lives before they had ever begun. Yet even as I was ready to turn away, he stopped. His hand quivered slightly as he stayed there, frozen. I grabbed a nearby pair of opera glasses and held them to my face. As I strained to see, the image in the lenses came into focus and I gasped. There, upon the thin tendril was a single, beautiful flower of perfect white, its ridges brushed with silver. Even from a distance it was breathtaking. Now I understood his hesitation. And his regret. And his dilemma.

He knew he had been commanded to plant the rows of the bright green shoots, that if he followed her directions his plot would be successful and he would fill his boots someday. But yet, he had seen the potential in the flower. The potential for beauty in this seed that had found its way into his ground. And now, he could not bare to pluck up the beautiful flower that had sprung up. On one hand was prudence, wisdom, and direction. On the other was beauty, affection, and love. Yet, he had also loved his neat rows of bright greenery once. And too, there was a certain prudence and wisdom in recognizing the virility of the turquoise vines in the ground.

However, the moral dilemma was cut short. She decided to visit him the next day. And this time, I was to accompany them. She walked as I had before, along the white cobblestone path towards his plot, her long black dress and white hair once more reminding me of a spectral judge on her way to pass judgment and damnation. We arrived at the gate and he walked toward us, boots on his feet and hat in hand.

“Well, it seems I made a mistake in entrusting this land to one at such a young and foolhardy age!” She did not mince words, and her tongue was sharpened steel that could slice through softest flesh and arguments straight into one’s soul.

“Beggin’ your pardon but, no, ma’am. I’ve been taking very good care of it.” He said, his eyes burning with indignant fire as he met her gaze.

A smile crawled across her lips, as if she were baring her fangs at him to subdue this new rebellion against her commandment-words, “Really? And how do you take ‘good care’ of things? By letting random seed stock interplant with that which was chosen? By deliberately disobeying clear orders? If this is how you care for your own land, may you never toil a drop of sweat on mine!”

He did not respond, still meeting her proud gaze with his own stubborn one. I could have sworn he sunk a bit lower into the ground, either to draw strength from the solid bedrock, or by the sheer weight of her personality. Either way, she gazed down at him and spoke tartly.

“You had such potential to work with too. The stock I gave you. They are all sunflowers, the largest and most beautiful kind. Their roots loosen the solid clay beneath the soil, allowing you to plant more things next year. They each produce a hundred seeds that can be pressed for oil to light your way when you guard at night, or ground to flour so you can have bread in winter. Their flower heads can be sold at market for a high price, enough for you to purchase any seed you want, or even build a small cottage on your plot, so you wouldn’t have to sleep out in the rain. Yes, their flowers are their most glorious part. These are all the shades found in the sunrise and sunset, the deep bronzes, the shining yellows, the burning reds. All captured in a flower.”

His cheeks burned red as she spoke, either from embarrassment or from anger, when he quickly reach down and plucked up a bunch of the fast spreading vine’s of turquoise, saying, “And these make beautiful flowers too! And they grow much better and faster. They naturally love this soil and weather and country. They trace their line back to when all this manor were just a wide meadow full of hinds and harts and hares and wildness.”

She smirked at his response, plucking a single vine with two blossoms on it out and holding it up as she spoke, “Ah yes, but of course. The ancient Moonblossom. How could I forget its linage. And you speak truly. It loves this country so much it blooms year round, in hottest sun or coldest snow, spring, fall, summer, and winter, its blooms deck the countryside. But you cannot eat them or their hard, bitter fruit. You cannot burn their oil for light. They may bloom everywhere, but that also makes them common. No one will buy your perennial blooms. Don’t you understand? It is pointless to grow them!”

“But why must he choose!” I hear myself calling out.

I trembled then, for fear that her gaze of leaden iron would fall on me and I would sink down into the very heart of the earth. But her gaze was fixed and locked into that of the angry boy’s gaze, like two harts locked during rutting season. She did not turn her eyes as she answered.

“Simple. Those vines will wrap around the Sunflower stalks and smother them, killing tem all before their heads will fully develop. That is, if the Sunflower roots don’t kill the vine’s first. You see, as with many choices in life where you would want both, you can only choose one. It is like taking a journey from the Manor to the market. There are two roads to take, but if you take one you cannot take the other. There is no way to take both at the same time. Choice is life.”

I turned my gaze from her cold face to that of the angry boy whose eyes were sparkling now as his turmoil began to surface. He now fully understood why he should keep the Sunflowers. And yet he knew why he loved the Moonblossoms. And he could now see, that he would have to choose one to let live and one to pluck up. The corner of her mouth rose slightly as if in victory, that she had prevailed.


“How much time does he have to make his decision?” I asked, daring her wrath to speak again.

“A little while longer. You don’t have to pluck anything up just yet. But the longer you let things take root, the harder and more painful it will be when the time comes to pull it out.” She warned gravely before adding, “But make sure you make your decision soon. The longer the two grow together in your plot, the more they will harm each other’s growth, and the more likely you are to loose both of them.”

And with that she turned and began walking back towards the house. He furrowed his brow in contemplation and sat down the small wall, once more looking down at the ground. I turned and followed behind her, and as we were walking she stopped and spoke without turning.

“This is your ground. I will not force you to adhere to my rules and guidelines gained through years of experience and infinite wisdom, especially if you are so adamant about making your decision. But just make a choice. Any decision is better than no decision at all. Personally, I don’t see your logic for keeping the Moonflowers…”

He answered without looking up, “There are no accidents.”

Her patronizing smile faded, as if his single sentence has spoken much more to her. I felt as if I should say something. Something to comfort him. Something to advise him. Something to rebuke her for her harsh, uncaring words. Anything to break the silence. But nothing came. Then she answered softly, almost gently,

“I pray you find the meaning behind it then, and soon.”

1 comment:

  1. Well done Bob! This is so creative and imaginative ... my mind is still trying to figure out the meaning behind it all! lol!